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  • Lawrence Bailey

Empty shelves and empty promises

I’ve mostly found that there’s better political insights to be gained from walking down a supermarket aisle than skulking around the corridors of power.

Recently , as well as the usual state-of-the-nation conversations at the butchery counter, I’ve noticed an increasing scarcity of some items. I’ve definitely seen a marked deterioration in the condition of “fresh produce”, along with prices creeping up, presumably due to increased demand.

Elsewhere, it’s apparent that the online shopping service promising “next day delivery” has become one of “please bear with us”

So where’s the log-jam? I mean it can’t all be down to that Evergreen wotsit ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal.

It seems there’s a combination of factors all currently contributing to the problem but it comes as no surprise that the stand-out issue is Brexit and its messy aftermath.

Basically, and despite the pre-election blather about “getting it done”, it turns out that much of it wasn’t done at all, especially at the trade borders. Furthermore, it wasn’t done properly or thought through in terms of filling many thousands of jobs vacancies in the supply chain.

Not to be deflated, the Be-Leavers insist that we should now follow the stoic example of past generations who went through privations in the cause of sovereignty and personal freedom.

Er, no – the whole “taking back control” thing was supposed to be an improvement. No-one mentioned service disruption in the promised sunny uplands or fruit rotting in the fields for the want of labour.

Pick up a national newspaper and it seems that we’re happy to blame the French, blame bureaucracy, blame immigrants, blame everyone and anything other than the irrational act of clumsily dislocating the UK from its single biggest trading partner.

Businesses, including supermarket, fast food and pub chains are now demanding that ministers extend the Shortage Occupation List to allow more workers from abroad, including the EU, to fill UK vacancies in critical jobs.

Of course, among these are retail firms like M&S and Tesco and Premier Foods who were all closing distribution centres throughout 2020, making deliveries longer and more complex.

One haulage operator I know told me that he has three guys on the books who are sitting around because they can’t get an upgrade on their HGV credentials. I suppose that could be something to do with the mounting piles of unopened mail at the DVLA.

Brexit isn’t working, and parts of government aren’t doing much better. Yet I’m betting you won’t see that written on the side of a bus anytime soon – or a lorry, for that matter.


Having a care for our futures

Talking of broken promises, Boris Johnson and his UK government are understandably coming in for a lot of grief after reneging on two key manifesto pledges.

As promised, the PM has finally announced plans to finance higher spending on social care. Unfortunately, this seems to be at the expense of guarantees to keep down taxes and ensure pensioners get the best available annual increase.

As you’d expect, the media focus is mostly on the financial inequities; making it all about winners or losers.

It’s funny though. This time last year you couldn’t read a social media post without someone concluding how health and wellbeing were more important than monetary concerns.

Yet the moment that a change to social care provision comes onto the agenda our first thoughts are about how much it’s going to cost and who’s going to pay.

What’s important to remember is that this is not a social reform - merely an official admission that care has been low on the list of spending priorities for far too long.

What remains outstanding as a matter of policy is a decision as to who is best placed to deliver and administer a better funded and, hopefully, a better managed service.

We should remember that several painful questions remain to be answered about how people with COVID symptoms were knowingly discharged from hospitals to care homes. The families affected deserve answers.

In the meantime, the call from politicians should be for a serious look at service integration between the NHS and local government and how to go about making our social care sector something that meets public needs and expectations.


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